Bethel College’s former chair of the music education department, Bob Ham, passed away Friday morning, Feb. 12 after nearly six years fighting breast cancer and melanoma. He was 61 years old. Ham was born on August 27, 1954 and grew up in Escanaba, a town situated in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Early in life, Ham grew incredibly fond of music and began engaging in opportunities to keep pursuing it. Ham started off by playing the trombone in elementary school and played throughout his time in high school. After graduating high school, Ham pursued secondary education with a hope of teaching music. Ham attended Northern Michigan University where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education. He graduated with magna cum laude honors in his degrees. During his college years, Ham was heavily involved with stage performances. In fact, he even was good enough to land a leading role in the university’s production of “Man of La Mancha”. While attending Northern Michigan University, Ham met the love of his life and fellow college classmate Marilynn McConnell, whom he would go on to be married to for 38 glorious years. Together, Bob and Marilynn Ham raised their two children, Meryl and Norris, and loved dearly their five grand-children: Eden, Cruz, Nadia, CJ, and Jovee. After finishing his studies at Northern Michigan University, Bob Ham was hired by Brookwood High School in Ontario, Wisconsin where he taught music education for two years. Ham went on to be hired by Norman Bridges at Friends Bible College (now Barclay College in Haviland, Kansas) where Ham would be a professor for 10 years. In his time at FBC, Ham received the college’s professor of the year recognition award twice. In 1989 Bridges became President of Bethel College and hired Ham to Bethel as a professor and chair of the music department, where he would remain for the next 26 years. At both FBC and Bethel, Ham’s wife Marilynn accompanied her husband as both a professor and accompanist on the piano. Ham was responsible for many innovations and impactful changes in the landscape of Bethel’s music department during his teaching years at the school. Ham created and helped run the Bethel College Collegians show choir. This show tune/dance group performed concerts from 1994 until 2015. In 1996 Ham created the Voices of Triumph, a prestigious vocal acapella group that performs regularly at Bethel as well as various venues throughout the community. Ham also helped establish the group enough to receive invitation to the 2003 Indiana Choral Directors Association summer conference where they performed in front of many great musical minds and directors from across the state. Ham indeed led his ensembles with excellence. In fact, under his leadership the Bethel College choral union, (a collection of ensembles such as the concert choir and women's chorale,) was honored with the opportunity to perform in two separate trips to the illustrious Carnegie Hall. After finishing their 1998 performance in Carnegie Hall, which received a standing-ovation, Ham and the choral union were invited back to Carnegie Hall in 2004. The immediate community was not the only domain where Ham’s choral ensembles were showcased. Ham led his ensembles on trips to various locations across the Midwest, but also left the continental United States through performances in places such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Canada. Ham also paved ways in helping Bethel College receive accreditation in the music department from the National Association of Schools of Music in 2007. This incredibly prestigious honor is only given out to a select group of colleges and universities and designates quality and excellence in music education at the collegiate level. Because of this, Bethel joins the ranks of well-known public schools such as Michigan State, the University of Michigan and Indiana University who each have been awarded this recognition. Ham was once again a recipient of campus wide approval when he received the Bethel College professor of the year award. Ham was honored and recognized in 2008 for this accomplishment. In October of 2013, both Bob and Marilynn Ham were honored with the naming of a wing of the music department in their honor. The once nameless section of a wing of music rooms and practice facilities now is to be forever linked to their long-time service and be known as the ‘Ham Wing of Music Education and Performance’. Perhaps one of the most special nights for Bob Ham was on Oct. 25, 2014. More than 230 students of Ham’s, alumni and current students, collaborated in performing a sold out concert in the Everest-Rohrer auditorium at Bethel College. This night featured the vocal talents of the students, but the real celebration was in an effort to celebrate Ham’s 26 years of teaching music at the school. Beyond Ham’s work at Bethel College, he was also an avid member of his church and its community of attendees. Ham regularly attended Clay United Methodist Church in South Bend, Indiana where he helped run the church’s adult choir ministry for an incredible 22 years. Ham was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2011, joining the ranks of less than one percent of men across the nation who fight this fierce disease. Ham fought through numerous rounds of treatment, traveling across the country with his family and friends' hearts by his side. He experienced a short stage of remission from the cancer; however, this period was all too short when he began receiving treatment for melanoma in 2013. In September of 2014 the breast cancer not only returned, but reached stage four levels within his body. During the spring semester of the 2014-2015 school year, the cancer inside Ham spread enough that he ended up stepping down as chair of the music department. He spent the next year continually fighting against the viciousness of this fatal disease, before passing away on Friday morning, Feb 12. Those who knew Bob Ham believe whole-heartedly that he will always be remembered for the incredible and authentic Christ-centered relationship he had with his Heavenly Father as well as his contagious smile and passionate heart for music and people. He was a living testimony of God's grace, and he showed his students, friends and family what it was to abide with the Lord.
"Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes; shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."
"Abide With Me"
Henry F. Lyte